Art: An Interview with Robbie Woolner (Woolner Wood Arts)

Wood carved rock and roll heavy metal band figurines, drummer, two guitar players, bass player and singer.

If you’re anything like myself, you probably don’t immediately think of carving when you hear the word art, yet when you see it well done… that perception/association quickly changes. Robbie Woolner’s carved art is a perfect example to demonstrate that point with.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Robbie (an old friend I met in my Creekwater Junkies days) who’s become seriously talented working with wood and other mediums. He’s used his skills to start his own business Woolner Wood Arts (based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada).

In this interview, Robbie and I discuss how he started working within this unique niche of art and how he successfully used his carving talents to start his own business. Of course, I also managed to get some advice from him for other artistic types to help them do the same with their own creative talents.

Me: Hey Robbie, how have you been my friend? Long time no see!

Robbie: I’ve been good man, nice to hear from you!

Yeah, it’s been nice to catch up! That being said, it’s great to have you here today, because I think what you’re doing with Woolner Wood Arts is really cool. As I think you’re sort of familiar with the format of these interviews, let’s get started!

Let’s start with you: tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started in carving? How long have you been doing it?

I started carving in 2016. Nothing fancy to tell really as I just went to the beach one day and brought home a piece of driftwood, picked up a knife and just started whittling it on my porch. The next thing you know, I had a face carved, and I started showing it to some people, and everybody loved it. I found that I loved doing it, and it wasn’t much longer before I started doing it full time.

Robbie Woolner of Woolner Wood Arts
Robbie Woolner

So you just started on a whim?

Kind of, yeah. I mean, my Dad used to carve when I was in my teenage years, and my Mom’s also an artist, so in a way, art comes with my genes, I guess. I’ve got artist genes in me.

That’s interesting. Kind of cool how carving, which is a craft that I will admit to me seems pretty unconventional, was just something that kind of popped out of the blue for you. Now I understand you do it as sort of a side hustle?

Yes, currently, that’s the case. I was doing it full-time for a while – but I’ve reduced my work to part-time at the moment. I took on a full-time job a few months ago, and so I’ve slowed things down since then.

I’m still carving, but I’m just not taking on as many commissions. I’m more so carving a lot of pieces for myself, things that I like that I will sell.

But you do you still do commissions, right?

Of course. I’m just not taking on as many because my time is limited. Some clients will come to me with an idea, but they want it done within a week. That’s fine, but many times, they don’t realize some of these things might take me a month or more to do properly.

I could see that. I’ve seen a lot of your work… it can be pretty elaborate.

Definitely.

So how would you describe your work? Of course, anyone perusing your site or this post can see some of it, but how would you describe your style?

My style is pretty obscure. The type of stuff I’m really into – skulls and heavy metal inspired art – I’d say that my style takes a lot from that category.

But honestly, I don’t need much more inspiration than whatever pops into my head at the time. Otherwise, I might see something online or somebody else’s work that I thought I could improve upon or change to my liking and so I’ll do that.

Well regarding your heavy metal comment, I can see in the background of our chat you are sitting in front of your massive wall of band t-shirts…

Yeah! Recognize this one? Creekwater Junkies! *laughs*

*Laughs* Takes me back! So heavy metal artwork is a prime influence – that’s cool crossing mediums like that.

Yeah, I’d say so. It’s definitely a massive influence on my art. I used to draw a lot too when I was younger, and the only types of things I ever drew were skulls and demons. I didn’t draw angels or puppies or anything like that, you know?

*Laughing*. Didn’t take you for the type. So do you have any personal influences then? You did say your Dad was a carver.

I would say that, yes, he would probably be my prime influence – both of my parents would be.

But also there are some heavy metal artists like Pushead (who did designs for artists like Metallica and the Misfits) and the artist that does Iron Maiden’s artwork – Derek Riggs – he’s been a significant influence.

I used to constantly try to draw Eddie of Iron Maiden (the band’s mascot). They’re my favorite band, and so I used to draw Eddie everywhere I went for years and years. Derek’s artwork was a big influence on me when it came to skulls and art themes like that.

I mean, I have to wholeheartedly agree with you on how cool their artwork is – my left arm is wholly tattooed in Iron Maiden artwork. They have some of the best artwork in music, in my opinion.

THE best.

So even though you’ve limited commissions for a little while – what do you like most about carving? About creative types of work?

When I’m carving or drawing, I find that it pretty much takes me to another place. I kind of disappear into my mind when I’m doing it – I’m not worried about things like this COVID-19 virus. I’m not thinking about it, and I’m not thinking about anything else that I usually think about. I just disappear into my own little world.

Sometimes I’ll be carving something, and I will look up at the clock and go “wow, I started doing this at 9,” and meanwhile it’s then 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  I always find myself asking, “where did those hours go?” but then I look down at my work, and I’m like, “oh, that’s where they went.”

Your slogan/tagline “Carve into it” – is that where that comes from?

That’s exactly where it comes from. I found that eventually, instead of just wood, I was picking up everything that was “carve-able” and making all sorts of different things out of all kinds of different materials… and so “carve into it” kind of became applicable – and I use that philosophy with life too… like, just jump right in and give it a shot.

A little life philosophy thrown in there too – I like that! But also… you don’t just do wood art then?

No! Anything that I think I can carve –  any medium that can be shaped or moved with another medium, I’ll pretty much try it. I do golf balls, I’ve done rocks, and right now, actually, I have a pool ball I want to shape into something.

Actually, now that I think of it, I saw something you posted about these bone rings you were working on.

Yeah! I have some bone rings I’ve been doing – making skull-shaped rings out of real bone. I also want to carve a couple skull pendants, and some people have asked me to do some dreadlock beads carved out of bone as well.

So if someone found like antlers, or something like that…

Yeah, actually, here’s an antler tip right here *shows me*. I’ve actually got a grim reaper already ready to go drawn on it ready to carve. So I’ll turn that into a pendant or something you wear.

Wow, that’s awesome.

Yeah but it stinks man – not the art, the actual smell of it *laughs*.

I’m telling you working with some of this stuff – bone and antlers – it smells like you’re at the dentist; it smells like burning teeth. It can be terrible – but otherwise, I like working with it, it’s a fun medium for art.

Hmmm… yes, I can imagine burning organic matter… working with that might smell a little off-putting *laughs*

Yeah it sure does.

*Still laughing*

So that kind of leads me nicely into my next question then – what projects are you working on right now? What kind of stuff do you have coming out?

I’ve been doing some fence board painting actually. I’ve made some things for my sensei, and I’ve got a few projects other clients want me to do – making some signs for people’s cottages and stuff like that, but as of right now, I’ve got a commission to do some work on a pool cue holder. The client wants it monogrammed with an 8-ball on it and a custom way to hold the cues.

That sounds interesting, how does that work exactly? Do you just sort of carve into it – no pun intended *laughs*

Actually, I don’t know yet how I am going to go about doing it because of the holder’s design. It has weights in it and rubber on it – and while mostly the client just wants it personalized, I am still going to have to figure out how to do that without ruining functionality.

What’s something like that cost then?

Things like that cost a little more, but nothing outrageous.

Pricing for custom jobs can be tricky, but for me, I usually charge by asking a bunch of people, “what would you pay for that?” and sooner or later, I’ll get a consensus of a price in or around the same price range. So that’s usually where I base things. Some of this stuff is super unique… and I don’t always know what to charge people *laughs*

Wood sign with Japanese text, two karate fighters in karate poses

Well, as long as it’s worth your time and you like doing it, I guess that’s a start.

Well, that’s the best part about it – I didn’t charge anything at first – people actually made me start charging for my work.

I didn’t even start my business, other people actually started it for me.

No kidding!? Elaborate on that a little bit… that’s interesting.

I don’t know if I can. Honestly, I just had people contacting me that they wanted specific things made, and so they pretty much pressured me to start selling my stuff so I’d actually make those things.

I mean I was having a good time by myself just doing it because I loved it, and I’d offer to give some things away sometimes – but then people started telling me “no, your hours are worth time and money, so I’ll give you 50 bucks for this” and I kind of said, “sure, no problem.”

That’s when I thought “well, I might as well start a business”.

Why not if there’s a demand for it?

Right? That’s why you start a business *laughs*

So do you have any favorite stories that have come from carving and doing this business since you started?

If I had to pick one, I guess it’s really just that first time that I carved something, the first piece of wood I brought home from the beach. I didn’t realize I had a talent at all when it came to this kind of thing. I just kind of sat there doing it, and at the time, it took me a couple days to do, but even now, when I look at what I made –  something I could do in an hour now – it reminds me of how far I’ve come.  

Not really an elaborate story for you – just me sitting on the porch with a couple of beers and ending up with this result – that’s my favorite story.

Three elaborate wood carved fantasy houses

I mean most of what I do revolves around me sitting here by myself, so there aren’t many stories to tell *laughs*

And yet… in its simplicity, that’s a great story. A piece of wood, a knife, a couple beers, and some time on a porch turned into a passion, talent, and business for yourself! That’s pretty amazing. And the fact that you said that basically, your business started because other people kind of did it for you – that’s a cool story too in itself.

I guess it is when you put it that way.

Now, this is a niche that I personally don’t know anybody else who does what you do. It’s very unique.

Neither did I when I started.

If you were to give someone advice – someone who wanted to get started in carving or in any kind of artistic medium for that matter – and if they were going to start their own business – what advice would you give to those people? For both carving and for business?

For carving and any art really – make sure you’re having fun doing it, that’s number one. I don’t really care what anybody else thinks about it, to be honest. If you’re having fun doing what you’re doing, and you can make some money on the side… then all the power to you, because that’s all that really matters. I’m having fun doing what I’m doing – that’s why I do it. The rest can come after that.

Straight, simple, and to the point: can’t go wrong with that advice.

Would you say there are any lessons you’ve learned along the way – things that maybe you could have avoided – things that if you went back and did it all over again, you’d do differently? From a business standpoint?

Well, first of all, my business really didn’t take off huge for me for awhile – I’m only really applying for income tax for my business this year for the first time because last year was the first year I made enough real profit.

And then, with things the way they are now, I’m not even sure that’s going to happen again this year… I had plans to do a showcase table with all my work at this local bar, but I haven’t had enough time to do enough things (apart from commissions) to fill a table right now. And with COVID-19 effectively banning public gatherings and bars being closed going into this summer… who knows how the rest of the year will go.

But for business, I would say to take all the courses that you can and learn as much as you can about your product or your craft that you’re doing.  Study and learn – what else can you say about business, really? I went and took some courses at business school because I wanted to learn more – if you don’t pay attention to your business and your craft every day or make an effort to learn more every day… it’s going to fall, eventually.

In my situation, for example, I’ve put some of my work on various platforms like Youtube and Facebook. I have a Youtube channel with some videos of my original stuff, and just by looking at it, you can actually see how much my work has progressed since I started. I only have some still shot videos with music at the moment – no live videos for now – but through my channel and my social media pages, I’ve met a lot of friends in that niche, and I’ve seen how effective social media can be. One friend of mine started a carving channel on Youtube, and he only had maybe 10 subscribers at the beginning… and now he just reached 15,000 within a year as of yesterday.

So it’s all about how you push yourself, how you sell yourself, and how much of your work you’re putting out there to the public.

That’s quite the jump in a single year – it just goes to show you how quickly things can change when you actually put your head down and just start something – kind of like you did.

Yeah, exactly!

Well, I think that’s great, man. I think that’s about it for today, though, so thanks again for joining me here at the Creative Wealth Project, and thanks for sharing your work and wisdom!

You’re very welcome Mitch, it was nice chatting with you!

Be sure to check out Robbie’s Facebook page for Woolner Wood Arts, where he’s most active (there are tonnes of photos of his carvings and updates for what’s coming up), but don’t forget about his Youtube channel to see some of his work!

Don’t forget to follow The Creative Wealth Project (below) so you never miss a post – and don’t be afraid to share – knowledge is power, let’s grow together!

Music: An Interview With Kyler Tapscott

Kyler Tapscott

For those of you who don’t know him, Kyler Tapscott is a singer/songwriter with some series skills on the fretboard. A phenomenal guitar player, he’s often played the role of mercenary using his tremendous talents to back up other performing artists in the studio and on the stage both nationally and internationally.

But now, that’s about to change. Based in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada), the day has finally come for Kyler’s own music to step forth and take center stage as he recently unleashed the first single “Fire” from his debut solo EP.

Kyler and I both grew up in the same small town (Cobourg, Ontario), so it was nice to catch up with him again and talk about his new EP and what he’s been up to musically. Of course, I also made sure to ask him for some advice he has for both guitar players and anyone else out there trying to cut their teeth in the music business.

Me: Kyler, my man! Thanks for taking the time to link up and join me today.

Kyler: Hey Mitch, no problem. How’s it going?

Pretty well all things considered. Your new stuff sounds great!

Thanks, I appreciate it.

Kyler Tapscott in front of a classic car
Kyler Tapscott

Yeah! So, as you know, I’ve got some questions for you today about what you’ve been up to… obviously the new EP we’re going to talk about… but I’d like to talk about a few other things too that might see you impart your wisdom on any young guitar players or musicians trying to make their own way in the music business.

Why don’t we start with you: tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into music? I know that you’ve been playing guitar for a long time.

I started playing guitar when I was around 11. My Dad was a musician my whole life too… I actually truly started playing guitar when I was 7… but, I just didn’t stick with it… I just didn’t have it in me at that age. But when my brother started playing when I was around 11, I began to really play probably because he was doing it, and then I started spending hours and hours and hours on it, and I got a lot better than he did very quickly. And then he stopped playing *laughs*.

So when did you start playing professionally?

I think I was 16 when I played my first professional gig. I was backing up a Yukon singer/songwriter named Kim Rogers, with my dad on bass… that would be the first of many more to come.

How would you describe your music to other people? I’ll admit, the new single from your EP really caught me off guard just because my experience with your music before has been a completely different kind of vibe.

Totally different.

That’s a good question, and I find that you’ll probably notice that with every song I release from this EP, they all have a really different flavor. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s kind of just what came out. They all have a bit of a funky sort of groove to them – except for one, which is more of a folk tune – but I find it really hard to say.

Kyler’s First Single “Fire”

Maybe I just haven’t found my sound yet, or perhaps I’m just a little schizophrenic when it comes to music, but I have a lot of different influences that play into the way that I write. I don’t always stick with one sound. That might catch some people a little off guard, and maybe that’s a good thing – I’m not sure – I’m kind of just feeling it out as I go along.

I should probably ask – is this your first EP?

Yeah, it’s my first solo EP.

I’ve recorded before: I’ve been a sideman for years. Since I was 16, I’ve been playing for other people, and I enjoy that a lot – there’s less pressure. You just kind of show up and do your thing – but there was this side of me that I’ve really wanted to get out for a long time, and I don’t know why I hadn’t yet. So it’s been exciting to figure out everything and get this EP together as I’ve gone along with everything that’s been happening.

Okay, so you’ve told me before that your creative process changes all the time, is that correct?

Yeah, for the most part.

Sometimes I’ll hear something that sparks an idea. I might be listening to a track, and then 3 seconds of a song might make me go, “Woah, what was that?”. When that happens, I’ll make a note of it and usually record it very quickly before that idea’s gone. Because you never know… it’s just like catching butterflies: you’re just kind of trying to grab one… you’re just trying to catch an idea.

Anyways, I’ll take that idea, and then I’ll record it, and sometimes things happen quickly, and sometimes those things take years, but eventually, I’ll go back and find that it sparks something. I just try to be open with things that I think sound cool or with lyric ideas, so anytime I find something I like, I’ll write it down and then try to revisit it later. For me, there’s no one way of doing things.

So sometimes the lyrics come first, and sometimes the music comes first.

Yeah, but most of the time, it’s music. Most of the time, I’ll come up with some musical ideas that I build from, and then I’ll dip into my bag of lyrics or sayings and try to piece it all together from there.

So you’ve said before that you have a lot of different influences. I can get that just by listening to the first single you’ve released in comparison to having heard your other stuff before, but are there any big primary ones?

For my single “Fire,” it’s kind of steeped in pop. I’m a fan of John Mayer – I like how he’s got a depth to his musical side.

But I have tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of influences… it’s tough for me to pinpoint who I’d say I sound like because they’re all so different. *Laughing* I might have to just send you all the songs so you can tell me.

I mean, I would definitely be open to that… that would be pretty sweet! Alright, well, let’s try this then: as a guitar player, do you have any prime influences as a guitar player?

When I was a kid, Jimi Hendrix was a huge thing for me growing up, him and Stevie Ray Vaughn… if you don’t go through those two guys, are you really a guitar player? *laughs*

But in high school, I was really into Pink Floyd. David Gilmour is one of my favorite guitar players, and he never plays anything fast – ever – it’s all attention to the right notes. Growing up, I also loved the Dire Straits’ first record… Mark Knopfler – is such a badass.

I was also really into Steve Vai and John Petrucci from Dream Theater. Those guys were significant influences for me during my first 5 -6 years playing guitar. John Petrucci’s Rock Discipline DVD was important too. I remember I downloaded it, and at the time, I still had dial-up internet so it took like 3 days to complete.

Oh, I remember those days *laughing*.

Yeah, you remember the days.

I remember the first song I ever downloaded was Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” and it took me an entire weekend… I remember yelling at everyone in the house like “don’t anyone pick up the phone for the weekend!”

That insane dial-up connection sound brings back haunting memories.

Later, I got really into Tommy Emmanuel and fingerstyle guitar, and so I went down that rabbit hole for a couple of years practicing fingerstyle guitar. Guys like Adam Rafferty, who’s fantastic – he also does fingerstyle arrangements – and even guys like Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. Basically, stuff that I didn’t really get when I was younger – I guess I just didn’t have the palette for it then – but later on, especially as a guitar player, I was like, “wow, this kind of guitar is actually the best.” In my opinion, the Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins records “Me and Jerry” and “Me and Chet” are probably two of the most tasteful guitar duet records of all time.

Then you’ve got guys like Django Reinhardt and these Brazilian guitarists Los Indios Tabajaras whom I also really, really enjoy… my influences are all over the map.

Kyler Tapscott and Jeff Biggar perform Los Indios Tabajaras’ “Maria Elena”

That’s a deep well to draw from, though, which is excellent for anybody reading that’s an aspiring guitar player. While you mentioned some of the more commonly known ones that people typically hear about like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, I don’t think a lot of people might have picked out the other ones.

Absolutely. I think it’s very important to be open to what you listen to. Don’t close yourself off.

So what do you like most about music as a job?

It’s different every day; you’re not confined to one thing. If I’m really into gypsy jazz, then I get to work on gypsy jazz. And then if next month I find I’m really into country chicken pickin’ guitar, then I get to work on chicken pickin’ guitar. You kind of get to compartmentalize all that stuff too, so whenever you do a session, you have this encyclopedia of guitar styles or riffs, and then you get to add that to other people’s music and to your own writing. It’s very cathartic for me to be playing music and playing guitar. Plus, you get to tangibly see yourself get better at something. You know what I mean, you’re a guitar picker; you get it.

*Laughing* I do, I do… I mean, I don’t gig anymore… I haven’t been in a band for the better part of a decade now, but I’ve been going through some old stuff on my computer that I’ve recorded. Songs that the world has never heard before. Every time I listen to them, I just think, “damn, I’ve gotta do something with this.”

At first – a spark.

So, this is the part where I would ask you what projects you’re working on right now, but I know you’ve got your EP coming out one song at a time – side note – what’s that called by the way? Do you have a name for it?

Initially, I was going to go with a self-titled release – something just like “Kyler” – but I’m not 100% certain on that yet. I’m more interested in releasing the singles, just because it brings people back every month. You get to create more buzz that way, and I think you get to squeeze out every last drop of something if that makes sense.

Yeah, it does. The digital landscape has REALLY changed the way the music business works.

Exactly. I think, unfortunately, people don’t really listen to full albums the way they used to. Maybe they do – some people do – but I think the industry today is more focused on playlists. People today want to hear one song, and then they want to listen to another song by a different artist or another song with a different vibe, and I think it’s tough today to release a record that a lot of people will listen to front to back.

Kyler Tapscott with an acoustic guitar

It’s definitely noticeable, and that’s the kind of stuff that I want to drive home to these younger people that are getting into the game – or even experienced people – because it’s very accurate, the music business has changed A LOT in the last decade.

And it’s constantly changing.

Okay, so aside from the EP, do you have anything else on the go right now? I know gigs are canceled temporarily.

We’re in weird times right now, there’s no doubt about that.

But of course, I had some gigs lined up, and I was going to be doing some sessions with some other people and writing, and so everything has slowed down in that sense. Otherwise, I’ve just been trying to continue to write and collaborate with as many people as I can, learn as much as I can, and then, of course, try to get this project done as I continue to release new songs.

Alright, so I know you’ve been gigging for a long time, and if my musical career is any indication, then you’ve probably got a lot of cool stories from what happened along the way. Care to tell one?

Yeah *laughs* I’ve got a few… I guess I could tell you my encounter with the German police one time crossing the border…

I like where this is going…

Last year, I had all these health issues – I was diagnosed with colitis, and I had a case of this really severe joint pain – my knee ended up locking in place for almost 6 months, and so I couldn’t walk for a lot of that time. Even when I could, I had to use a cane and a knee brace. So, last year when I was on tour with Amanda Rheaume in Germany, one day, I found myself hospitalized; I had to leave a 6-week tour on day 9 to come home and deal with a shit show of health issues.

Luckily though, I was well enough to go back in June with her for a week, and so we flew into Amsterdam and Holland. While there, I got some “medicinal substances,”… and so here we are on our way to the German border, and this cop car just kind of kept tailing us and following us, around, and eventually they pulled us over. So at the time, I’m thinking, “shit, I have this stuff on me right now, and we’re on our way to a festival.”

Anyways, when they pulled us over, they said to us, “listen, you can either tell us that you have something you shouldn’t on you, and then we’ll have a small problem… or you can tell us nothing, and if we find it, then we’re going to have a big problem.”

As it turns out before they got to the van, I had taken my bag of “stuff” and put it in my knee brace – underneath my pants. They ended up searching the whole van. I mean, they searched everything – all of our pockets… they literally took the van apart.

Kyler Tapscott smiling with acoustic guitar on table

But the whole time I was just playing up my knee pain – almost to the point of being ridiculous, with the cane and everything – and so I’m sitting down, and they’re saying things like “oh so sorry sir, please sit down sir” even as they padded me down. And you know what? They didn’t find it.

So I don’t know if that’s a lesson to be learned here, but don’t try to cross the border with “medicinal substances.” If you do, though, make sure you have a knee brace *laughing*.

That’s a great story! I mean that’s perfect.

*Still laughing* I almost got thrown in a German jail for having that stuff – but I didn’t. I persevered! I persevered right on through!

*Laughing* that’s brilliant. So we’re almost done here, but any crucial advice you have for other people? Starting out – either just as a musician, as a performing artist, or any of that?

I think first and foremost, I’d say to just enjoy the process of learning and understand that it’s a labor of love – things don’t happen overnight, but whatever you put into it, you’re going to get out of it.

You should also be easy on yourself. There’s a fine line between being hard on yourself, which is a good thing because it pushes you forward, and being too hard on yourself, where you don’t actually allow yourself to be vulnerable and make mistakes. Make sure you continue to learn and play with other people. Don’t be afraid to suck for a while. I think that’s really, really important.

If I could go back and tell my younger self a few things, I’d start by saying to practice with a metronome – get your timing down. But also, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and put yourself out there – maybe you won’t have the best show, but go out and play again later and learn from your mistakes; don’t doubt yourself. It sounds cliché but it’s very true, at least for me… I probably haven’t accomplished a lot of things because I just got in my own way at times.   

I remember the first time I had to play to a metronome in the studio *groans*… I wish I would have practiced with one earlier too.

Anytime Mitch, take care!

You too. Keep pumping out those groovy jams.

Be sure to check out Kyler’s music streaming now (with a new single coming out each month!) on all major platforms and keep up to date with what’s coming out by following him on social media below!

Music: An Interview with One in the Chamber’s Gerrod Harris

One in the Chamber promotional image, Mike Biase, Gerrod Harris, Cecil Eugene, Christian Dotto

If you’ve never heard of One in the Chamber, well, you’re about to.

A hard rock band based in Toronto, Canada, they bring a fresh sound to rock and roll that boasts a unique punching power and swagger – just when you think you’ve got their style figured out, they pull out the ol’ rope-a-dope maneuver and put you on your ass.

I recently had a chance to “digitally” sit down (thanks to nobody’s friend COVID-19) with the band’s drummer and de facto manager Gerrod Harris to discuss the band, their music, and what’s coming up for them. Gerrod also highlights some takeaway advice/experiences he can offer to anybody trying to carve out a name for themselves in the music business.

Me: Hey, Gerrod, thanks for joining me today. Some crazy times out there, but thanks for reaching out and getting back to me so quickly.

Gerrod: No problem Mitch, thanks for having me. And yeah, it’s a weird time for everyone right now, but I think it’s a weird time, especially for creative people.

Alright, so I’ll just dive right into things. Let’s start with the band. I listened to your entire discography, I listened to the single (Blow) quite a few times actually just to get familiar with it – it’s pretty good! I’m excited, you know your guys’ style… I can’t really put my finger on it. So that being said, first and foremost, why don’t you just tell me a little bit about the band. How’d you guys get started? How long have you been together?

One in the Chamber drummer Gerrod Harris behind his drum kit
Gerrod Harris
Photo credit: Black Umbrella Photography

One in the Chamber started about 5 years ago… coming up to about 5 years now. 2 of the members, Cecil Eugene on lead guitar and Christian Dotto on bass, they’re from Mississauga. Our lead singer and guitarist Mike Biase, he’s from Richmond Hill, and as for myself on drums, I’m from Markham. But there’s not really much of a scene in York region *laughs*… so it’s just easier to say you’re a Toronto band. So yeah, we’re a Mississauga / Toronto rock band.

So how would you describe your music? You know, for me, I listen to your stuff, and I kind of pick out a bit of a Velvet Revolver vibe almost… but that’s not it. You have these melodies and riffs that are more reminiscent of classic rock or an 80’s rock sound, but then your guitar tone or a chorus melody will switch things up, and it’s just completely different. So let’s hear how you’d describe your sound.

Well, to me, we’re like a classic rock band. We’re kind of in the same vein as a lot of these up and coming bands in the United States like Them Evils or Black Top Mojo and Canadian bands like Crown Lands or The Wild!.  We’re kind of in that classic rock… I don’t like using the word revival because that sounds like a fad – but we sort of have that classic rock tone, and I think that’s the basis for us. That’s where it starts anyway, but then when we add all of these different things and styles and that’s when it gets unique.

Okay, so do you guys have any primary influences? Any specific bands or sources of inspiration?

Well, we’re all different and that’s part of it.

Mike is a big classic rock guy, so for him, it’s all about bands like Led Zeppelin, Guns N Roses, and Motley Crue. As for Chris, well, he’s a big metalhead… like I mean a BIG metalhead, and so Metallica, Pantera, and a bunch of different progressive metal are where his background comes from. Cecil is actually just all over the place. He loves pop music; he loves rock music. Honestly, he loves and hates the most interesting things that you would just never guess… and he also went to jazz school! He went to York University for jazz, which is actually where I met him because I was also at York for jazz, so there’s a little bit of that jazzy-ness in there in our sound.

As for myself, I’m very similar to Mike. I love classic rock. But you know I also love a lot of 90’s rock. That comes from my drumming instructor when I was growing up. He was born in the ’80s and grew up throughout the ’90s, so every week he was bringing things to me that I had never heard of before. You know, I grew up listening to stuff like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, but then he’s bringing over Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine and stuff like that… so for me, that drastically changed my musical direction.

So if you look at all that, when the 4 of us kind of get together in a room, there’s a lot of different ideas that surprise us. There are a lot of ideas that naturally we react like “that’s a weird sort of twist” or “I don’t know if I like that or hate it” … but it’s just because all of us have ideas and we’re all coming from different places. For us, that makes things really cool and fun; it makes it different what we’re playing. Because of that, it kind of leaves things really wide open.

One in the Chamber band members, Gerrod Harris, Christian Dotto, Cecil Eugene, and Mike Biase
From left to right: Gerrod Harris, Christian Dotto, Cecil Eugene, Mike Biase.
Photo credit: Keelan Nightingale

That’s pretty cool. I would have never guessed the jazz part, but then hey, maybe that’s why I had such a hard time putting my finger on exactly who you guys sound like! So how would you say your creative process works then when you guys write your music?

When we first started, everyone was coming from different spots musically. Cecil had already been in a couple of bands, and so had Chris and Mike. I had only really been in a high school band and a couple other jazz things at that time. So Cecil and Chris were bringing in a lot of their own material that they had written before, and we were kind of adding stuff to it. That’s where our first demo EP comes from… it’s a lot of songs that were written as a group but started off as nearly completed songs from individual members. After that point is when we kind of started sitting down together and actually writing music.

And now?

Everything on our 2018 debut studio EP, “I’ve Got Something to Say,” is a very collaborative effort, and I think that’s what makes it so different from the demo EP we put out before that.

So now, our process is that different guys bring in very rough, very foundational ideas like a riff or a chord progression or a melody into the practice space, and then one of us will kind of jump into it. We’ll be jamming on it for a little bit, and as we’re jamming, it just kind of grows. Sometimes it grows into a full song, and sometimes it doesn’t. I find it to be very organic. It’s a lot of fun musically for us to actually sit down as a group and put different pieces together. At time’s we’ll just stop playing and be like… “okay, well, how to do we get from here to here?” and then we start to connect those dots.

Do you guys all write the lyrics? Do the lyrics come first?

The lyrics are primarily written by Mike and Cecil. Actually, scratch that: they’re only written by Mike and Cecil *laughs*.

Musically it’s a group process; everyone has input on everything. But lyrically,  I don’t even attempt… that’s not something that I do, and lyrically Mike and Cecil are fantastic. They just come up with these ideas, and half of the time, I don’t even know the words. Like, come on, I don’t need to know the words I’m the drummer! *laughs*.

But we’ll be in the studio and Mike will be singing his vocal take and that’s all I will be able to hear, so when he comes out from the vocal booth I’ might say something like “Oh my god that was brilliant!” and he’ll reply “Oh you liked it eh?” *laughs*

So do you guys write the lyrics after the music? Or do you have some written beforehand?

It’s weird, I don’t think once someone’s brought in lyrics and said let’s write a song around these lyrics – I don’t think we’ve ever done that. But between Mike and Cecil, they’re both walking around with these little books that they’ve always got words written down from ideas that we never finished or ideas that they had written but never got put to song. So usually we’ll be jamming, and then Mike will drop what he’s doing and run out to his car and he’ll grab his book, and then he’ll be flipping through it trying to put a melody to some of the words he’d think would go with whatever we’re playing. Or sometimes he’ll start writing as we’re playing.

Like I said, it’s all very organic.  It would be tough to say that the lyrics are a starting point because sometimes they already exist before the song does.

I like that, I dig it. Alright, so I know you guys just released a single, Blow. Are you guys working on anything else right now?

Drum kit and neon logo for One in the Chamber
Promotional artwork for the band’s new single “Blow”

Yeah, so as you know, we just released Blow with a music video and everything. At least, for the time being, we just want the focus to be on the single, promoting it, and the music video. But of course, we’re working on other things too. This whole coronavirus situation has changed things a bit, but we’re working through it.

That’s good to hear, I’m looking forward to what comes next.

So, I’m just going to ask: do you have any favorite or cool stories from your musical journey thus far? I know that I have stories for days from mine…

*Laughing*

Yeah, I mean, when you play in a band for 5-10 years, you have lots of cool stories you never thought would happen. You have lots of just shit-show stories that act pretty much as a sign to where the local music industry is at. One of our early shows – I think we signed up for it through it for Sonicbids… Which in itself for anyone listening – don’t sign up for Sonicbids *laughs*.

Oh yeah, I definitely made that mistake once too.

That was a lesson that took a little longer to learn. We signed up for this record showcase sort of show. We show up, we’re holding our instruments, and we actually had to pay to get into our own show – all of the other bands had also paid to get into the show. Then the promoter who put it together was there for maybe 5 minutes at the door. Supposedly, he was at the door for a few minutes where he put on this awful video on a projector; it was like a homemade newscast saying that this was his label, and it was doing big things. It was… *groans*. But you know for every story like that, you get a good one too.

For example, in our first year, we got to open this huge show; it was huge for me anyways. It was huge for the band too, but for me, well, two of my favorite bands are Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, and we got to open for Scott Weiland at what would actually be his final performance. Ever.

Really?

Yeah, he played Adelaide Hall on what I think was December 1st, 2015… and yeah, the next gig was the one wherever they found him when he had passed away on his tour bus before he actually played the show. So you know even at the time it huge for me, because it was like “Oh my god, I got us this gig opening for one of my absolute heroes” and then he was gone. Just looking back now, it’s… well, you know.

The last one. Ever. That’s just, man that’s… that’s a story.

Yeah.

Like now, I’m sitting here, just imagining what it would be like to open for a personal hero… it would be like me opening for Ozzy Osbourne, and then afterward, he kicks the bucket or something. I mean, that’s going to happen sooner than later now, I’m sure… if you listened to his last album it’s pretty much a farewell letter.   

I loved that record. I don’t typically rush out to listen to Ozzy, but the fact that Chad Smith from the Chilli Peppers was on drums was enough for me to be like “Day One, I’m going to listen to this,” and I was just blown away.

It’s really not like anything else in his body of work. But when I finished listening to it, I felt it was perfect for its time. Like, I’m not somebody who’s going to rush out to listen to Post Malone anytime soon, and he’s featured on a track, and then you’ve got a song with Elton John – which I ask “how did these two guys never collaborate before?”, or “why are they doing it now, or if at all?”. But somehow, it all just worked.

Yeah, exactly.

So I know you mentioned the Sonic Bids thing, and I think that is excellent advice in itself, but do you have any other advice from your experience that you would give to other bands or musicians who are just getting going?

Certainly.

Even now, 5 years into things, there’s always something to learn. There’s always something that’s like “okay, I wouldn’t have done it that way, but this is the way that we have to do it,” and you have to ask yourself how you can adapt.

Photo credit: top left – Melissa Aquino, bottom left – Nicole Wolfe, right – Gary Munroe

Take right now, for instance. All of our gigs have been canceled, but we still have this single coming out with no live shows to promote it. This was supposed to be the big year of drop the single, drop the music video, play everywhere in Ontario and Quebec, and then do more content in the fall. And now it’s… “okay, how do we continue doing this without shows?”.

So we’re figuring that out. Live streaming looks like a good option… but for every live stream that I’ve watched, most of them are just not as exciting as I would have hoped, or the quality sucks, so again it’s like, “how do we do this right without busting the bank?”.

I think when you’re starting a project, whether you’re just starting it, or you’re in the middle, or you’re deep into it… staying open, putting the time into it, and just taking the time to figure things out is what you have to do. You know, think about what makes the most sense for you, and don’t be afraid to have to learn how to do something new for the sake of the band.

I never used to use photoshop, and now I design all the essential posters for the band. I took a simple website that we had on Wix, and I’ve done everything to completely revamp it and update it. For the social media aspect, I try to make sure to take the time to figure out things like the best time to post or how to post to reach people that aren’t already following us.

There’s always something to do, and there’s always something to learn, and I think that as long as you’re willing to kind of put in that time, you’ll eventually start to find your way.

Great advice, Gerrod. I think that’s pretty much all I have for you today, so I’d just like to say thanks again for joining me here at The Creative Wealth Project! I really dig the single, and I am looking forward to more material in the future!

Thanks Mitch, it was a pleasure chatting with you.

You too Gerrod, keep in touch!

You heard the man folks, it’s out now, so without further adieu, here’s the video for One in the Chamber’s new single “Blow.”

Music video for “Blow”

Be sure to follow the band on their website and social media listed below to check out their other tunes and keep up with all that’s happening with One in the Chamber!

Website: www.oitcband.com